Tuesday, March 8, is the deadline to formally declare candidacy for the New Mexico House of Representatives and to submit qualifying nominating petition signatures. All 70 seats in the New Mexico House of Representatives are on the November 5, 2022 election ballot. At least 10 members of the New Mexico House, in including 2 that have already resigned, or 14% have announced plans to forgo reelection. The departures include State Rep. Georgene Louis who said she will not seek reelection after being arrested on charges of aggravated drunken driving and Speaker of the House Brian Egolf who said on the last day of the session he will not seek another term . All have cited the toll on their family, employment and personal life.
WHAT LEGISLATORS SAID ABOUT LEAVING
On January 28, 2022, Representative Brittney Barreras (D-Albuquerque) resigned from the New Mexico House of Representatives . In her resignation statement, Barreras has this to say in part why she resigned:
“First, I want to say that I am completely honored that my neighbors and community have trusted me to represent them. I have done my best to stay true to them and true to my roots in the South Valley. The huge amount of pressure in such a big job has become increasingly difficult for me. All of the pressure and stress has taken a toll on my mental health.
Two years into a pandemic, I know that many of us are experiencing stress, anxiety, and negativity. I want you to know that I feel you, I see you, I hear you, and we’re in this together. I know that I need to take care of myself right now in order to be a good mom, daughter, co-parent, and community member.”
On February 3, 2022, Art De La Cruz, who previously represented the same district from September 2020 to January 2021, was appointed by the Bernalillo County Commission to replace Barreras.
Santa Fe Democrat Tara Lujan is serving her first term and is seeking a second term. Lujan gave up a state job to join the Legislature, which is required by law that provides state government employees cannot serve in the New Mexico legislature. After being first elected, she decided to dedicate 100% of her time as a state representative knowing full well it would be difficult to find a private sector job that would allow her to take the breaks necessary to serve in the House and allow for 30 day and 60 day absences for legislative sessions. She saved money to ease the transition, and family help was critical to allow her to serve in the legislature. Lujan said she had to draw down on her savings and received help of family members to be able to serve in the legislature. Lujan opined that the public is not well-served by the crush of the final days of a session when separate bills are rolled together, surprise amendments pop up and sleep-deprived lawmakers make final decisions on what to support.
Notwithstanding, Lujan is dedicated and is seeking a second term and she is looking for employment in the private sector. Lujan had this to said this about seeking another term:
“It’s almost undoable, to be honest with you. … There have been many moments where I’ve thought, how long – what’s the sustainability of doing this kind of work at the pace it calls for? … My extended family is really the heart of how I get everything done.”
Representative Kay Bounkeua, a Democrat who represents the International District in Albuquerque, said serving in an unsalaried legislature is simply too difficult, especially with a 3-year-old daughter at home. Bounkeua said her the decision to step down came after two exhausting, combative sessions, one focused on redistricting last year, the other a regular 30-day session. Bounkeua, said she exhausted her vacation time and will take unpaid days off work to attend committee hearings held the rest of the year. In announcing she would not seek another term she had this to say:
“You have to put the kiddo first. … It was really hard for me to do that while also juggling a full-time job, my day job, as well as doing legislative duties. … To get everything done in 30 days … it’s nearly impossible. You want to make decisions that you feel like are very informed and are community backed. You can’t do that if things are so rapid-paced.”
Republican Los Lunas area Representative R. Kelly Fajardo had this to say about not running for another term:
“It’s not easy, but public service isn’t easy. … It’s a sacrifice we all make. There’s a balancing act we all have to do. … That’s just the way it is.”
In a surprise and unexpected announcement, New Mexico House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, announced at the conclusion of the 2022 New Mexico Legislative Session, that he will not run for reelection this year for his District 47 seat. Speaker Egolf told the House of Representatives shortly before noon and the end of the session:
“This is the last time I will speak to you from this rostrum during the conclusion of a regular legislative session. … It’s time to put my young family first [my 11- and 14-year-old daughters, and my wife Kelly.] … Neither District 47 or the [House] leadership belong to me. I will always count you as my colleagues but also, more importantly, as my friends.”
The link to quoted news source material is here:
NEW MEXICO’S CITIZEN LEGISLATURE
The New Mexico Legislature is what is referred to as a “citizen’s legislature” meaning that it is not a full time, paid, professional legislature. The New Mexico convenes only once a year with sessions commencing in January.
In even number years, the legislature convenes for 30 days, known as a “short session”. The 30 day sessions are dedicated to budget legislation and the agenda is set by the “Governor’s Call”, meaning the Governor dictates was legislation can be considered. In odd number years, the legislature convenes for 60 day sessions and legislators can introduce legislation on any topic or matter they choose and not subject to the Governor’s call.
New Mexico legislators are the only state lawmakers in the country who don’t draw a salary, though they get daily payments during legislative sessions, reimbursements and the option to participate in a retirement system. This year’s daily rate, based on the federal per diem, is $173 to $202, depending on the time of year. The small pay means most legislators are retired or hold jobs that allow them to take breaks for annual sessions of 30 or 60 days in Santa Fe, in addition to less-formal meetings held throughout the year.
The work of a legislator is intense, and usually towards the end of a session. During the last week of this 2020 thirty day session, two times the House worked overnight, including 26½ hours straight before adjournment.
LEGISLATURES THROUGH OUT THE COUNTRY
While a handful of legislatures are similar to Congress in the way the function, most are very different. In most states, legislatures meet part-time and have smaller staffs than Congress. In these states, the legislature may meet anywhere from two to six months out of the year, and in four states the legislature only meets once every other year. These bodies are considered citizen legislatures, and members receive part-time pay. Most members have another job outside of the legislature. Because of the short sessions, legislation in these states tends to move very quickly.
Ten states are considered to have full-time legislatures. These states tend to function similarly to Congress, as legislative sessions last longer, and members and their staff are usually well paid. The states with a full-time legislature are Alaska, California, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Session length tends to vary in these states, and legislation in states with longer sessions tends to move more slowly as the legislative bodies have more time to deliberate.
Fifteen states impose term limits on members of their legislature. There are two distinct types of term limits imposed by these states:
1. Consecutive term limits restrict the consecutive number of years a member can be in one chamber of the legislature. In these states, it is not unusual to see a member of the legislature bounce between chambers after reaching the consecutive term limit.
2. Lifetime term limits prohibit a member from running for an office they’ve held after they have served a specified number of years.
Some studies have found that lifetime limits tend to increase turnover and can limit institutional knowledge of members. Without institutional knowledge built from years serving in a legislature, the influence of long-term staff and advocates tends to increase as legislators often turn to staff and advocates for information.
A link to source material is here:
New Mexico is the only state that doesn’t offer a specific salary to lawmakers, though a salary isn’t a guarantee of good compensation. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, New Hampshire, provides an annual salary of $100 with no per diem. California and New York, by contrast, pay salaries of at least $110,000 a year. Many states offer a mix of mileage reimbursements, per diem and a salary.
Arizona legislators, for example, get $24,000 a year, plus mileage and per diem, depending on where they live. New Mexico lawmakers draw daily payments of $170 to $200 a day based on federal per diem or about $5,200 for the recently adjourned 30-day session. Legislator’s also get a mileage reimbursement and an optional pension plan.
CHANGES TO HOW NEW MEXICO LEGISLATURE OPERATE REPEATEDLY FAIL
Repeated attempts have been made in the past to establish a salary for lawmakers or to revise the length and structure of legislative sessions and all have failed.
During the 2021 legislative session, a proposed constitutional amendment focusing on pay cleared one Senate committee and died in its second without reaching the floor of either chamber. The legislation called for the newly created State Ethics Commission to review and set salaries for elected officials in the executive, legislative and judicial branches of state government.
In 2021, another proposal called for the creation a Legislative Process Review Commission. It would have created a panel to develop policy recommendations on transparency, compensation, staff support, session rules and the funding of capital outlay projects. The commission concept won House approval but did not advance through any Senate committees and never reached the full Senate for a vote.
Also in 2021, legislation calling for extending even year legislative sessions from 30 day session to 45 days and removing the limitations on what could be put on the agenda also failed. It passed the House, advanced through a Senate committee but was never voted upon by the Senate before the session ended.
$100,000 FUNDING FOR STUDY
During the 2022 legislative secession that ended February 17, Senate Bill 48 passed that allocates $100,000 to study legislative staffing needs, compensation and the structure of legislative sessions. The bill is awaiting the Governor’s signature. The study would be done by the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of New Mexico. The Governor has until March 9 to sign the legislation or veto it.
Representative Joy Garratt, D-Albuquerque, Democratic Representative Angelica Rubio of Las Cruces were sponsors of the legislation. Representative Garratt is a retired teacher and she said she saw first hand this during this years’ session the difference between holding a day job while serving and being able to focus full-time on the session. She said she no longer spent evenings calling parents and instead devoted more time talking to experts and going over legislation and she had this to say:
“You have time to more deeply understand a bill, its impact, its possible unintended consequences. … You have more time to craft good legislation.”
The link to quoted news sources is here:
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
New Mexico became a state in 1912. At that time, a part time all-volunteer legislature made sense and was about all that could be expected. A full 119 years later, it no longer makes sense. During the 2022 New Mexico 30-day session there were a plethora of very complicated bills and resolutions that generated fierce debate, but with only 30 days, there simply was not enough time to seriously consider enactment. It is time to abolish New Mexico’s archaic citizen’s legislature and create a full-time salaried legislature and staff it properly.
All too often, controversial bills never make it through assigned committees and onto both chambers’ floors for final debate and enactment. With only 30 or 60 days sessions, it is very foolish to believe that part time legislators have a thorough understanding of legislation they are voting on and they are force to place too much reliance on paid full time legislature analysists.
During the 2022 legislative 30 day session, the New Mexico legislature enacted a historic $8.48 Billion State budget, the largest budget in the state’s history, and a $827 Public Works Bill. It also also attempted to deal with tax reform, historic education funding, environmental issues, crime and punishment issues, energy issues and the courts. Complicated and very controversial legislation that simply failed because there was not enough time included “voting and election rights” legislation, “pretrial detention” legislation, and the hydrogen hub development act that would have created a whole new industry in New Mexico.
Simply put, the general public is not at all well-served by the rush of the final days of a session when separate bills are rolled in to one, “ghost bills” introduced or surprise amendments are added while tired and weary lawmakers make final decisions on what to support. Clearly, lawmakers deserve to be adequately compensated and it should be tied to stronger ethical regulations prohibiting conflicts of interest.
As things stand now, lawyers, teachers, farmers and energy executives all serve in the Legislature and vote on legislation affecting their industries or profession. Disqualifying themselves from voting is required in limited circumstances. Expanded staff is an absolute necessity to help legislators evaluate bills and serve constituents. A predictable schedule of committee hearings and floor sessions would go a long ways to help lawmakers plan their time and give the general public sufficient notice of pending matters that will be voted upon.
The postscript to this blog article provides other commentary on the needs for a full-time legislature.
ALBUQUERQUE JOURNAL GUEST COLUMNS
On January 19, 2022 and before on November 29, 2021, the Albuquerque Journal published guest editorial columns on the topic of the need for a full time legislature. The later was written by Albuquerque resident Jason Barker and the former was written by Hannah Burling, President of the New Mexico League of Women Voters. When read together, both columns make a compelling case as to why there is a need for New Mexico to abandon its part time legislature and create a full time, paid legislature.
JANUARY 19, 2022 GUEST COLUMN
HEADLINE: “Is a part-time NM Legislature the problem?”
BY JASON BARKER, ALBUQUERQUE RESIDENT
“How equitable and effective is New Mexico’s part-time Legislature?
It is essential that residents, officials and lawmakers focus on legislation that will make a positive difference in the lives of all New Mexicans and outcomes in New Mexico. An independent legislative improvement task force can be that positive difference.
A part-time legislature is no longer benefiting New Mexico; it’s time for reform. New Mexico is the last state in the U.S. without a (salaried) legislature (and) we are also the state – among those with many – with the most last-place rankings.
In the 2021 legislative session … lawmakers made four different attempts to pass bills to pay themselves. Before this happens, a responsible legislative body would create an independent legislative improvement task force similar to the one in 2020, House Memorial 32.
A responsible legislative body would have UNM and NMSU political science departments and other state universities conduct political science research into our citizen Legislature to determine if the current structure has been the root cause of all the problems for New Mexico in recent years. No member of the Legislature or Governor’s Office should have any say in the selection of the task force membership.
How effective is our part-time “citizen” Legislature?
For example, the 30-day/60-day style in a two-year period means it takes New Mexico almost 2.5 years to equal one year of legislative work that is done in Colorado.
It clearly appears not having a professional legislature is holding our state back. And the current structure of the legislature has evolved into a legislature of elite retirees, excluding the people the citizen legislature was intended to serve.
According to the Legislative Council Service, the most recent formal study of the legislative process was in August 2006.
The following must be considered by any task force created for this:
• Length of legislative session compared with states of similar size;
• Compensation of legislative members compared with states of similar size;
• Strategies to reduce conflicts in the legislative process;
• Staff for legislators during the session and in the interim;
• Developing a primer for citizen participation in the legislative process;
• Limiting introduction of guests and performances on the floor;
• Improving alignment of policy initiatives proposed by interim committees with the development of the general appropriation act;
• Transparent planning and prioritizing capital outlay funding; and
• Structure and efficacy of statutory and interim committees.
A report of recommendations (should be) made available to legislators and the general public by Sept. 1.
New Mexico chooses to be a very poor state, despite how cash rich the state government really is, but there’s no reason for that.
It’s the sixth-richest state in the union when it comes to natural resources, with massive potential in solar energy. So, why are we failing as a state?
It’s such a huge, beautiful state with a rich history and culture. New Mexico can proudly claim one of the most diverse landscapes in the world – just like the people that make up our great state.
Currently, our “citizen” Legislature … does not allow all citizens an equal or equitable chance to serve.”
The link to the JASON BARKER guest column is here:
NOVEMBER 29, 2021 GUEST COLUMN
HEADLINE: “NM needs a full-time, paid legislature”
BY: HANNAH BURLING, PRESIDENT OF THE NEW MEXICO LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS.
“Now is the time to make substantial and desperately needed changes in the operation and procedures of the New Mexico Legislature.
A coalition of good government and other civic organizations, including the League of Women Voters of New Mexico, is proposing some major improvements, namely lengthening the legislative sessions, creating a salaried legislature and providing year-round staff for all legislators.
Efforts to improve New Mexico’s operations and effectiveness have been afoot for decades, in recognition that today’s Legislature faces demands not contemplated when the 1912 constitution was created. In 2007, the Legislative Structure and Process Task Force produced a report with many practical recommendations. Many of them concerned such operational reforms as increased transparency, scheduling and workload. A 2017 report by the League of Women Voters of New Mexico and Common Cause New Mexico made many similar recommendations concerning transparency and public participation, and efficiency and effectiveness.
… The Legislature meets for 60 days in odd years and 30 days in even years. During both of these sessions, the body must deal with a huge workload. In the 2019 regular 60-day session, there were 1,663 bills, memorials, joint memorials, resolutions and joint resolutions. In the 2020 regular 30-day session, they had 919 legislative items.
New Mexico has the only unsalaried legislature in the United States. Legislators receive a per diem when meeting. The legislators do receive a pension if they choose to participate. Although legislators do not receive a salary, they are expected to perform constituent services, study all legislative items, participate on interim committees and more. Legislators, other than the leadership, do not have (year-round) staff assistance to help them with the above duties.
Our legislative sessions are among the shortest in the nation, preventing many good bills from being passed. The sessions are too short to permit thoughtful study and debate on the large amount of legislation introduced. They enable delaying tactics to run out the clock, leaving many bills to die at the end of each session.
The fact that most legislators do not have staff, especially when the Legislature is not in session, limits legislators’ ability to respond to constituents. In addition, legislators lack the time, and often the expertise, to study and decide on a wide variety of topics. This increases their reliance on paid lobbyists for information on the bills.
The League and the other coalition members believe the public would benefit greatly from these reforms. Legislators will be able to perform more constituent and community services, and receive more independent research and advice on legislation. In addition, temptations for ethics violations would be reduced. Importantly, there would be potential to increase diversity in the Legislature. Currently, many prospective candidates are deterred from running for office because they have to work and don’t have jobs that allow flexible schedules.
We hope all New Mexicans will join us in advocating for these legislative improvements. Ask your legislators to enact legislation to amend the New Mexico Constitution to lengthen sessions, pay legislators and provide staff for all in order to modernize the Legislature and allow the members to perform their work more effectively.”
The link to the HANNAH BURLING guest column is here: